As I mentioned here before, I believe the U.S. needs a rational immigration policy but I'm not sure what one looks like. I'm surprised that Congress has decided to take it on in a hotly contested election year, but I guess I shouldn't be because there could be lots of votes to be gained with the right posturing and rhetoric.

Maybe they will figure out what a rational immigration policy looks like, but I fear there will be too much politics and not enough thought or even much common sense. There are too many competing interests, as this Washington Post analysis points out:

As the Senate begins debate on revamping the nation's immigration laws, the issue poses multiple challenges for both political parties, while offering no clearly expedient solution. Two huge electoral prizes, the Southwest and Florida, are potentially up for grabs, as are millions of Hispanic votes elsewhere. But also in play are the votes of angry residents in border states and beyond who feel overwhelmed by the rising tide of illegal immigration.

That seems to sum up the situation, but they sort of lost me here:

Views on immigration break into two camps. At one end are law-and-order types, mostly conservative Republicans, who want to tighten border security and step up enforcement against illegal workers. The business community, the Roman Catholic Church, many Republicans and most Democrats occupy the other camp -- joined, notably, by President Bush. Although they generally support tougher enforcement, they also want to change federal law to allow illegal workers to gain legal status so they can continue to fill many low-skill jobs that they believe would otherwise go vacant. Moreover, they say, welcoming outsiders is a core American ideal.

Maybe it's just me, but a) I don't think it breaks down to just two camps, because b) I don't think "most Democrats" side with the business community or President Bush on creating a permanent, legally recognized sub-class of workers to be exploited.

And, sorry, but I'm not convinced that all these "low-skill jobs" would "otherwise go vacant" if employers had to pay a fair wage and provide the same benefits and employment/workplace protections that "legal" American workers enjoy.

At any rate, the debate should be interesting. If nothing else, we will get to see just how far politicians on both sides are willing to go to pander to their perceived base. And with the right-wing agenda on the ropes and Democrats struggling to get traction on something or anything, it will also be interesting to see just who each side perceives is their "base" these days.